Keith Windschuttle in his book The Media claimed that each news outlet has a ‘news formula’ which aims to attract a loyal, predictable audience for advertisers. The ‘news formula’ is a way of selecting ‘good stories’ for this purpose; an “unwritten hierarchy of favoured news.” For example, he says that “the formula of the popular, or down-market, press [is] based on stories about celebrities, disasters, monsters, politics and deviance.”
Another way of maintaining interest on television is to have constantly changing images. Academic Kiko Adatto has documented in her book Picture Perfect the decreasing length of the sound bite in the US which had fallen from 42.3 seconds in 1968 to 9.8 seconds in 1988. “Politics, in other words, was being shot and edited to the rhythms of a Coca-Cola advertisement. Forget about hearing a whole paragraph on a policy decision; a politician was now lucky to finish a sentence.”
This trend has also been observed in Australia, where John Henningham, professor of journalism, has studied news bulletins on Channel 9 and found that each shot lasts an average of less than five seconds and that there are up to 33 shots in reports that last little more than a minute. He agrees that “news bulletins are striving for the visual excitement of the commercial or rock clip.”
Entertainment merges with current affairs producing “infotainment” which, as Philip Gold notes in the conservative magazine Insight on the News, blends “trivial amusement with the address of serious issues”, reduces “serious reportage into fragmented coverage of the latest ‘shocking developments’” and squeezes out “more serious discourse.”
Television news producers prefer very short stories with good visuals and action stories that add excitement to the news. They are very good at providing drama and emotion but poor at giving in-depth information on complex issues. News stories are presented very quickly, in rapid succession and with little explanation. “The typical anchor delivers more than two hundred words a minute.” As a result, people who rely on television to get their news tend to be “the least-informed members of the public.”
The need to entertain turns social processes and events into stories, “with some unfolding built into the action, starting somewhere and leading to somewhere else.” Stories that “elicit strong emotions” are best.
Every news story should, without any sacrifice of probity or responsibility, display the attributes of fiction, or drama. It should have structure and conflict, problem and denouement, rising action and falling action, a beginning, a middle and an end.
The end result is that "The major news media fail to deal systematically with the variety of compelling social needs of the entire population. Those needs remain hidden crises, obscured in the daily flood of other kinds of news... Consequently, masses of potential voters have become resigned to the assumption that what the major media tell them is the norm and now unchangeable."